I have zero experience with guns.

Correction: Up until two weeks ago, I had zero experience with guns.

A few years ago, I read Emily Miller’s Emily Gets Her Gun.  When we lived in Northern Virginia, Emily was a columnist at The Washington Times (one of the best newspapers in the country and one I sorely miss reading on a daily basis) and I followed along with her 2011 column where she described the complicated and convoluted process of (legally) getting a gun in The District of Columbia.  The award-winning column developed into the book that was released in 2013. As a gun newbie too, Emily offered a fresh look into the often intimidating world of firearms from a novice’s perspective – understanding the different types of guns, proper training, gun “lingo,” etc. – all in an effort to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to properly defend herself in Washington D.C. I connected with Emily’s story and felt motivated to do the same.

While reading the book during the fall of 2013, I convinced Nate’s stepdad to let me shoot during one of our weekend trips to Pennsylvania.  I had never held a gun in my life but was anxious to learn as much as I could.  Here you can see me testing out some of his guns.  (Now that I’ve been properly trained in gun handling, these photos are somewhat embarrassing.)  We aimed at a wooden scarecrow in the garden about ten yards away.  I was pitiful and completely off target. As you can see in the photos below, my hands were not positioned correctly, my stance was poor, and I had no idea how to properly align my sight.  While I initially felt cool physically holding a gun and pulling the trigger, I quickly became discouraged. I thought I would feel confident, but instead I felt like a fool.  I did not like that I was holding and using a powerful tool without proper training.  Like anything else, I knew instruction and consistent practice would help me gain the skills needed to confidently use and carry a firearm…and playing around for an hour in the backyard wasn’t going to cut it.

Point Blank Range Concealed Carry Class
Point Blank Range Concealed Carry Class

I finished reading Emily’s book that fall but sadly, never made it to a training class. (Even though we lived about five miles away from the NRA’s headquarters and range that Emily referenced in her book.) Like many aspects of our life in Northern Virginia with busy jobs and a newborn at home, we didn’t make things like this a priority.  As we talked about in this blog post, it was a big reason for moving out of the DC beltway bubble.

Living in the Lake Norman area now, we are fortunate to have the area’s premier indoor shooting range and training academy – Point Blank Range – located right up the road from us.  Point Blank Range offers a variety of training and instructional programs, including concealed carry handgun permit classes specifically geared toward women.  I had been stalking the class dates online for about a year and have wanted to go into the shop, talk to the instructors, and learn more about their services, but I kept chickening out.  Besides living in a home with my husband’s shotguns and rifles, this was all so foreign to me and very daunting.  Then the terrorist attacks occurred in Paris last November…

As a woman, I want to be prepared to protect myself and my family from potential robberies, assaults, and even large scale public attacks that are becoming more prevalent in our society but kept saying “I’ll get to that later.” After the Paris attacks, I refused to take my son to a children’s movie over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.  Being an unarmed citizen, I felt vulnerable and scared because I was defenseless.  While we can’t prevent assaults and attacks from happening, I was letting the bad guys win because I was unprotected and fearful.  If I was properly trained and armed, I wouldn’t have thought twice about going to the movies and enjoying time with my family.  At that moment, I decided it was time to stop being such a coward and sign up for the class.

The North Carolina Concealed Carry Handgun (CCH) class involves eight hours of classroom instruction plus additional time on the range, “qualifying,” all in order to obtain a CCH permit in the state.  Point Blank Range offers two CCH classes – a coed class and a ladies only class.  I signed up for the ladies only class that took place over the course of two evenings in February from 6-10pm. (Most of the classes occur in one, eight hour weekend day, and this was the first class offered over the course of two evenings.  As a beginner, I felt like I would gain more by the split sessions, instead of one 8-hour information dump).

I contacted Point Blank Range prior to the class to let them know I was interested in blogging about my experiences as a novice.  I was still a little nervous since I had no idea what to expect.  The day before the class, I met with my instructor, Jeff Tutino, to tell him my story ideas and gain a little insight about the class.  Jeff is extremely down to earth and immediately put most of my nerves at ease. Originally I had envisioned this story to be very picture heavy in order to show other beginners the various aspects of the class and training, but Jeff suggested that I not even mention that I was writing an article as this could have been a distraction to others and to myself.  I agreed with him am glad that I did.  There was so much information to cover, I would not have retained it all if I was busy taking pictures and I think it may have intimidated some of my other classmates.

All of the training classes at Point Blank Range are popular and fill up quick – my class was no exception.  In all, there were 28 women, ranging in age from about 25 – 60 years old with varying levels of firearms experience.  Some women already owned and were proficient with a handgun and were taking the class purely to obtain the CCH permit.  Others had experience shooting handguns, shotguns, and rifles but wanted more training and the certification prior to purchasing their own handgun.  Then there were a few like me (although I’m betting I was by far the least experienced) who were entering uncharted waters.

Jeff spent the majority of the first evening explaining in detail NC firearms ownership and CCH law as it applies to the rights of citizens, to prepare for a 20 question written exam. While many probably find this mandatory section of the class tedious and boring, Jeff did an awesome job breaking down the legal mumbo-jumbo into practical terminology; he also used many real-life examples to help us understand the various concepts.  The class consisted of a great group of dynamic women who were energized to learn and ask questions.  The varying levels of firearm experience made for some lively conversations among Jeff and our group as we went through the material.

On the second night, Jeff opened the class by reviewing some of the trickier material, answering any last minute questions, and then giving the written exam (Thankfully this book nerd got a 100%). Next we moved on to learning about the anatomy and differences between revolvers and pistols, ammunition, range safety, and practical applications.  This material was definitely more challenging for me and was a lot to take in during the three hour time frame.

The class concluded with “qualifying” – the shooting practical on the range.  Before heading out to the range, Jeff went over some basic shooting commands with a dummy pistol in the classroom. He demonstrated the proper stance, hand grip, and sight alignment by aiming the laser in his dummy pistol at a target taped to the blackboard.  With each demonstration, Jeff’s laser hit the target’s bullseye dead-on.   Simple, right?  All I had to do was mimic Jeff’s actions and I’d be hitting my bullseye like a pro too…

I’m not going to lie, as we headed to the range my nerves crept back in.  It’s one thing to watch someone else correctly hold a gun, stand properly, and align the sights to make the perfect shot.  I hadn’t held a gun since that Sunday afternoon in PA back in 2013 and felt very unprepared walking up to my lane in the range.  To obtain the course certification, I had to fire 30 rounds of ammunition on a target about 12”x18” in size, from three distances – 10 rounds from the 3 yard line, 10 rounds from the 5 yard line, and 10 rounds from the 7 yard line; 21 out of the 30 rounds had to hit the target.

Standing in our lanes, first we practiced loading 10 rounds of ammo into the magazines, then loaded the magazine into the gun.  We took the safety off the gun and let fire! As I was shooting those first ten rounds I honestly wasn’t even thinking about hitting the target.  My mind was wrapped up in other things – are my hands in the correct position, am I firing too fast/ too slow, what if there’s a gun malfunction like a misfire or hangfire that Jeff talked about? Needless to say, my inattentiveness to the target was clear – I only hit the target 6 times from the 3 yard line (and none were close to the bullseye)!

Ok, let’s try again from the 5 yard line.  This time I felt a little more comfortable shooting the gun, but still wasn’t sure if my form was correct or how I should be aligning the sights.  I wanted to take my time and readjust between each shot but I could hear the other women shooting faster and more rhythmically; I sped up my shots to keep on pace and to not look like a complete boob.  I didn’t fare any better from the 5 yard line – I only hit the target 5 times.

Alright, one more shot (pun intended).  By this point, I had hit the target 11 times.  My last 10 rounds all had to hit the target for me to get the certification.  My odds weren’t looking good.  With the target moved back to the 7 yard line I tried my hardest but still didn’t feel comfortable.  I didn’t fully understand the sight alignment and I knew my hands were not positioned correctly. On the last attempt I hit the target just two times; with a grand total of just 13 out of 30 rounds hitting the target, I couldn’t receive my certification that evening.

Point Blank Range Concealed Carry Class

This was my qualifying target.  I needed to get 21 shots in the red to get my CCH certification.  I only hit 13 out of 30 in the red.  Pretty pitiful right?

I left Point Blank Range that evening dejected.  I fully understood why I couldn’t pass the practical application portion of the class but it was still disappointing.  Nate had been so excited for me and I hated that I had to tell him that I couldn’t hit the target even 50% of the time, let alone the 70% (21/30 rounds) needed for certification.  Jeff said I could come back at any time to redo the qualifying but I knew nothing would change if I didn’t have some proper one-on-one training.  Plus, say in the off chance that I went back in and magically hit the target 21 times, would I really feel comfortable carrying a pistol around or confident using it in an emergency situation?  The answer was no.

After discussing with Nate (who’s never had any formal pistol training either) we decided to schedule a private training lesson together with Jeff.  If we’re going to be serious about handgun ownership and carry, we want to learn proper techniques at the outset instead of picking up bad habits that would be hard to fix later on.

In this hour-long session, Jeff worked with us on our stance, grip, and sight alignment.  I had a particularly hard time lining up the sights and focusing my eyes through the sights onto the target.  However, after about 20 minutes of this one-on-one instruction with the laser gun in the classroom, I immediately felt more confident and better prepared to shoot a real gun on the range.  As you can see on the target below, our private lesson paid off – I hit my target 30/30 times with many of my shots directly through the bullseye!

A comparison of my first qualifying targets (left) and the target after my lesson with Jeff. It’s amazing what a little instruction on the proper techniques did for my shooting accuracy and overall confidence.

Here I am retaking my qualifying shots.  What a difference in my grip, stance, and focus compared to those earlier photos!

Point Blank Range Concealed Carry Certification

Now that I’ve received my certification I can apply for a North Carolina CCH permit.  Permits are issued by your county sheriff’s office.  To start, find your county sheriff’s website and their concealed carry permit page.  Here you must fill out an application, pay the $90.00 application fee, and schedule an appointment to be fingerprinted (fingerprints are used to check mental health status).   According to my county sheriff’s site, there has been an increase in permit applications so the approval process may take several months; applicants have 12 months from the date of class certification to register for the permit.

 

Before taking Point Blank Range’s CCH class, I was rookie when it came to gun handling, operation, and terminology. Participating in the class forced me to step out of my comfort zone to become knowledgeable and proficient with the practical applications of gun usage for self- defense.  While I’m still in the beginner stages, I definitely feel more confident and will be heading to the range a lot to practice my shooting skills and to try out different handguns to find a good fit before purchasing. (A benefit of taking the CCH class is that a one month range membership is included in the class price.) If you’ve been thinking about learning more about gun ownership or ways to protect yourself, I highly recommend checking out all of the services at Point Blank Range.  Besides the concealed carry classes, they also offer instruction in shotgun self-defense and women’s self-defense that stresses the importance of situational awareness (something Jeff touched on in our CCH class as well).   For more experienced shooters, they have advanced conceal carry classes and competitions.

Finally, with North Carolina’s primary elections coming up this Tuesday, I encourage you to learn as much as you can about your local candidates and where they stand on protecting your 2nd Amendment rights.  The right to keep and bear arms is a Constitutional freedom – a civil liberty afforded to every American whether they own a gun or not, and some candidates want to take this right away.  Do your homework, then get out and vote on Election Day!

I’d love to hear from others who’ve taken classes at Point Blank Range or their experiences as a conceal carrier (since that’s my next step).  Feel free to leave me a comment below or through the “Get in Touch” window on our homepage.